Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teenage driver!!!

Parents often have goals for their kids. My parents had plenty of goals for theirs, and I have my own for mine. As the youngest though, there were a few that didn't happen for me. My older siblings all started piano lessons at the age of eight. When I turned eight, we were in the middle of moving to Brazil, and I guess there was enough going on without trying to find a piano teacher for me in a different country.

One other goal my dad had was for all of his children to learn how to drive a stick. My brothers both learned how to drive a manual. But my sister and I ended up sharing an automatic when it came to be our turn.

I had a good friend in high school who drove a manual, and he let me try it at least once, but I never had much success.

Then in college, my sophomore year, one of my friends I made in Maine let me drive his manual, but other than going around in the parking lot and doing a few blocks and stalling a fair amount, it didn't really add up to much.

My sister and her husband ended up buying a car with a manual transmission, so she had to learn pretty quickly how to drive it.

That left me as the only one who didn't really know how.

Well, in October, my mother and I drove to West Virginia and Virginia for a wedding of a wonderful friend, and we happened to drive my dad's car instead of my mom's truck. Well, my dad's current car is a stick, which meant my mom got stuck with the driving. Near the end of the trip coming home, she was pretty tired, and we decided that I should give it a go. It was late at night, and there was not much traffic. So we did a few circles in a parking lot, and off I went on the freeway. Freeway driving is actually pretty easy, and I made it home. I think I stalled at one stoplight once we reached my town, and I know I stalled in the driveway. Way to end it on a high note!

Well, then in November, I was home for Tabitha's funeral. Obviously, my father's car was there, too, so I decided to give it a few more tries. Once, my brother Danny was behind me at an intersection, and from behind (and since it was a stick), he thought it was my sister Amy driving, and he gave me quite a hard time honking at me. Ha. But I made it through. :)

Then my parents came to visit in January, and my dad came back for a visit in February, and I got to try driving it a little more, but always with an experienced driver in the seat next to me to give me advice on when to shift up or down, let up on the clutch, etc.

Well, this month I got to spend ten days in Nebraska with my sister, and our families have now reached the size where we do not fit in only one of her vehicles. So her dear husband rode his bike to work almost every day I was there, and left us with both of their cars. (Their cars are awesome by the way. One is a micro mini van in a fantastic kind of light green highlighter color and the other one is a small sedan in bright orange. Beautiful. Can you tell I'm a girl? The colors are more memorable than the kind of car. Although I do think one was a Kia and the other was a Chevy, but more than that I couldn't say.)

My sister was willing to let me practice my manual driving skills. She backed the car out of her driveway for me, because she said reverse was tricky in her car. I felt no reason to argue, because I didn't mind not having the stress of smashing her side mirror on her garage door. When I got in the car, I looked at the shift stick and was surprised to see that the drawing of the gears were different than on my dad's. My sister and I discussed it, and we both thought we understood each other, but we did not at all.

That car trip was horrible.

She had me drive around her neighborhood block to see if I was comfortable, but her neighborhood does not have stop or yield signs, so I never actually practiced starting from a complete stop (except for once obviously at the beginning). So I did great and thought I was good and off we went.

We tried to leave the neighborhood. Amy drives out, and I follow her . . . after stalling three times.

Then we get to a bigger street. Amy drives out, and I follow her . . . after stalling three or four times.

Then we get to an intersection with a very busy road. The light turns green. The first two cars go. Amy goes. I don't go. I couldn't even tell you how many times I stall it, but after I turn on my hazard blinkers and many cars pass me and I finally get moving, the light had already changed to red. So I moved up to the line and tried to stay calm. I kept my blinkers on just in case. The light turned green, and it was my chance to shine. But I killed the car again. I couldn't even tell you how many times I stalled that car, but at one point the light was red again, and I was in the middle of the intersection. The dead center. I was terrified. I finally got it to start, and we rolled through and everyone was very nice and sat waiting for me to get across. (I guess they saw no need to damage their vehicles on me, but boy was it scary.)

I made it to the library. Somehow I wasn't crying. I was worried about the bad smell coming from the car and stressing out over ruining my sister's car.

We had a nice time at story time and got back out to the parking lot. As we were loading up our kids, my sister asked which car I wanted to drive. I didn't really want to drive the manual again, but I told her that I probably should or I might never try again. I equated it to falling off a horse and how you have to get back on again. So, like the brave cowgirl I was trying to be, I got back in the car. She asked me if I wanted her to back it out of the parking spot, and I told her I might as well try.

That was when we realized that I had understood the diagram incorrectly. That whole time I had been trying to start the car in THIRD gear instead of first. An important difference. I can't believe I ever got that car to start. On her car, reverse and first gear are kind of in the same place, except to get into reverse, there is a ring you lift on the stick shift, and to get into first you move the stick in the same place without lifting the ring. But I thought that reverse was the first slot and first was the second slot.

Oh my goodness.

I was amazed at how easy it was to drive the car after I knew where the correct gears were!!!

I drove the stick pretty much the rest of the vacation.

I wasn't immediately good of course. At one point of the trip, my parents and grandpa were there too (for Heather's blessing), and I was driving the manual with my mom in the car. I still sometimes stalled it or revved the engine. This particular occasion, we were on a slight incline, and I was nervous about rolling into the car behind me (that was much too close!), and I ended up peeling the tires with the back wheels kind of spinning a bit while the front wheels stayed in place. It was really loud, and my mom actually yelled "teenage driver!!!"

After a few days though, I got pretty good at not peeling out like a young hot rod and not stalling it like a beginner.

I did like to have my sister follow me though, because I was really stressed out about how close cars would come up behind me at intersections.

On one trip, the light turned yellow, and I could have made it easily while maintaining the same speed, but thinking of my sister behind me, I made sure to slow down and stop instead, so as to not make her run a red. I looked up into my rearview mirror expecting to see a smile or an encouraging thumbs up from my sister, but instead I saw a man slamming his hand on his steering wheel looking upset and much to close to my car.

I asked my sister about it later, and she said that the guy had just zoomed in, cutting her off, and then I hit my brakes to stop at the light. So, ha, he almost got in an accident with both of us. That would have been kind of horribly funny—to have one guy hit both of your cars.

So, long story short, I feel that I can confidently say that I can drive a stick now.

There you go, Dad. One of your life's goals: accomplished.

(Mom, I promise I am working on the cooking goal. So far no luck. But I am making progress on the gardening goal!) :)

Amy (and Devin), thank you for letting me practice with your car!